Folau ‘unlawfully terminated because of religion’
The rugby bosses who sacked Israel Folau are preparing for all-out legal battle with the former Wallaby that could leave the struggling sport in financial ruin.
It's the nuclear option that nobody wanted but the gloves are now off with Folau beginning formal action to take his former employers to the cleaners while rugby officials are vowing to fight him all the way.
As expected, Folau is challenging his termination under Section 723 of the Fair Work Act, with the backing of prominent Melbourne QC Stuart Wood and the Macpherson Kelley commercial law firm.
Folau is claiming that he was unlawfully fired because of his religious beliefs and believes he is not only standing up for his Christian beliefs but also the rights of all Australians.
"The messages of support we have received over these difficult few weeks have made me realise there are many Australians who feel their fundamental rights are being steadily eroded," Folau said yesterday.
"No Australian of any faith should be fired for practising their religion."
In the documents that were filed with the Fair Work Commission yesterday, Folau is seeking $5 million in lost salary, plus damages that are still to be decided but will be in the millions. If he is successful the size of the payout could potentially send Rugby Australia broke.
"The termination has cost Mr Folau the best years of his rugby career, participation at the Rugby World Cup, the chance to become the greatest Wallaby tryscorer (a decades-old record he was likely to break), and the associated exposure and opportunities," Folau's application said.
"As well as around $5 million in lost salary, Mr Folau will claim in respect of the loss of these opportunities (renewal of contract, sponsorships, etc). The damages will be particularised in due course, but will be substantial. In addition, Mr Folau will seek civil penalties."
Rugby Australia and Rugby NSW are sticking to their argument that Folau was fired because he breached his employment contract by posting anti-gay comments on his social media accounts despite being repeatedly warned not to.
"This is an issue of an employee and his obligations to his employers within the contract that he signed," Rugby Australia and Rugby NSW said in a joint statement. "He was bound by a code of conduct for all professional players in Australia that spells out clear guidelines and obligations regarding player behaviour, including respectful use of social media."
Folau's lawyers indicated they have other options at their disposal, setting the scene for a long stoush rugby officials said they had desperately hoped to avoid. "It is important to make clear that Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby did not choose to be in a position where they are forced to divert significant resources to defend the ongoing legal action taken by Israel, but his action leaves the game with no choice," they said.